In advance of the publication of his first book, Accidental Heroes: The Grassroots Movement That Helped Save the Columbus Crew, I spoke in-depth with author Pete McGinty about the project. In addition to this conversation, you can also read my review of the book itself by clicking HERE.
Many Crew fans may not be familiar with you as you are not a member of the usual Crew media, so what is your background and how did you get involved in this project?
I was doing a writing project for a magazine. My background is all marketing, branding, and writing. I’ve been on my own for about three years now doing my own thing with my own client base. One of my clients is the Columbus Partnership and I was working with Alex Fischer on some things, and one of them was writing something on the Columbus Way. It’s a term that was coined to describe how our public, private, civic, and now even grassroots sectors with #SaveTheCrew, how they all work together to accomplish great things for Columbus and the Columbus region. So we were working on a story trying to capture the values, and one of the things was to do some case studies to capture those values in a more in-depth way. #SaveTheCrew was a case study Alex pointed to. This was in the summer of 2018. Even before the Crew was saved, we already recognized that it was a meaningful effort and grassroots movement. Whether the Crew ended up being saved in the end or not, it was already a success in terms of mobilizing the community and partnering with different sectors.
I’ve been to many Crew games. I wasn’t a diehard Crew fan, but I love all things Columbus and root for the Crew. I didn’t know Morgan or any of the details of #SaveTheCrew, although I was certainly rooting for #SaveTheCrew. I feel I have my ear to what’s going on in Columbus, but I wasn’t necessarily optimistic. I didn’t know some of the great things that were happening.
I was introduced to Morgan to interview him for this piece I was writing. We met at Seventh Son Brewery on Fourth Street. I will never forget it was a beautiful fall night on September 28, 2018. What I learned was fascinating, so I started putting my case study together. Two weeks to the day later is when the Crew was saved.
So then I ran into Morgan at a Metropolitan Club luncheon where they were honoring Dr. Pete and the Haslams. Alex Fischer was the host and emcee and they were also honoring the #SaveTheCrew team. I happened to walk in right behind Morgan. I said, “Wow, you did it! We need to get together again so I can learn about how everything came down at the end.” It’s always good to have an excuse to have a beer with Morgan. I don’t know how many times we met to have beers, but one of the times I said to him that he needs to write a book about all this. He said, “I’d rather drink poison. You should write it.” The rest is history.
The #SaveTheCrew story could go in so many different directions with so many possible angles. Did you know from the beginning that your focus was going to be on the grassroots movement and those 19 individuals, or did you come to that conclusion after you started digging into it?
I didn’t know. I had only met Morgan. I don’t even think I knew yet that there were 19 individuals and who they all were. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Then I went to a #SaveTheCrew leadership meeting at Land Grant. I thought this was going to a bunch of buddies who get together and have a few beers and high-five each other and have fun, especially now that the Crew was saved. I walked into the meeting and they were as serious-minded as any board of directors meeting I’d ever been in. I realized this was all business and there were so many different skillsets. David Miller was media relations and Tom Davis was the website designer and Keith Naas and Tim Myers were researchers and so on. I had no idea of the vast skillset and how all of this was assembled and how they call came together with a purpose. After I started talking to them, I realized this was a very flat organization where everybody played a role, and if you took any one of them out of the mix, they are that much weaker as a group.
As you know, there were hundreds of people behind this movement. Those on the leadership team were quick to credit everybody that stepped up in some way. So I started digging into this team and recognized that it was about capturing them as equals. Morgan was the most visible and notable, if you will, so he was the primary narrator, but it evolved as I started learning more. I just wanted to start writing the story and then it took off on its own.
One of the neat things about the book is that while it’s not an oral history per se, you let them do most of the telling. You have media clips and exposition where necessary, but otherwise you stand back and let them tell their story. Was that a function of going through the material, or was that something you set out to do from the start? What was your process for assembling everything?
The first person I interviewed besides Morgan was Donny Murray. He said, “I want this book to portray all of us as equals.” Because Morgan was so visible, a lot of people think Morgan was the leader, but that really wasn’t the case. As I talked to more people, I realized that Donny was one of the true leaders. He’s so soft spoken and humble that he never told me that. I learned it from others. Starting to talk to everybody else, I learned that everybody had their own unique angle and unique skillset. While everybody shared this experience, they all related to it differently and had different emotions and a different attachment to it.
It was their story. I was just trying to capture it through their lens. Looking back at it, there’s this great quote that Nate Beckman gave me. I actually printed it out and taped it on my wall. I’m looking at it right now. He said, “If you can reflect the highs and lows that hit the heart of the Crew community, that would be your greatest achievement in replicating this 12-month period.” So I had that in front of me the whole time. They’re the ones who experienced this. And all of Crew nation experienced this. That intense dedication and purpose to never say die and do what it takes and to work 20-30 extra hours per week on top of their regular jobs, all that was very moving to me. It became my journey to capture their journey. I tried to make it less about me and my perspective and more about putting the pieces together and putting order to it and trying to capture the relationships between them.
When putting together this book, was there anything that jumped out and surprised you as you learned more about what they all did?
There were a few. One was when I learned that this wasn’t just a group of buddies that just got together and tried to do activities. They had such incredible instincts in a number of ways. One incredible instinct right from the very beginning was messaging. The first message was “This is not over. Tell everyone you know.” The other was, “If this can happen to Columbus, it can happen to you.” One was a way to engage with the local audience and the other was to reach out to the soccer community beyond Columbus. That mobilized fans throughout MLS and beyond to join the fight, where somebody needs to stand up to The Man.
Then there’s instinct with regard to people and the talent they assembled. There was a core group that new each other from #TIFOSWEAT and the other supporters groups and they all knew they could depend on each other. They all knew how to get stuff done, but they recognized that other people were contacting them, like a David Miller, who did media relations and communications. He wasn’t even a Crew fan, necessarily. He just thought, “They need what I can bring to this.” So he contacted them and said, “I have a skillset you might be interested in.” Tobias Roedinger, the same thing. He said, “I’ve got an agency and I might be able to help you with some things.” Keith Naas and Tim Myers did the research that uncovered a lot of things. The leadership team wanted to keep the group small, but over time, they recognized this person can help us.
They didn’t know if this fight was going to last a month or a year. I don’t think any of them thought it was going to last a whole year. Initially, they gave it everything they had every day because there may not be a tomorrow. So another instinct was that they built it like a company. They built an organization with all these unique skillsets, from research to legal to communications to community affairs to website design to graphic design to merchandising to selling and shipping goods to accounting and so on. Everything that an organization would need if you were to try to draw it up. And they didn’t do it with any sort of planning. They did it on the fly.
There was also this collective instinct on the values that they held themselves to. They all come from different walks of life and some of them are very different people, but they all had the same values. They all recognized what’s right and they were trying to right a wrong. They wanted to do it the right way by staying ethical, being honest, and taking the high road. There wasn’t any dissention within the group about these kinds of things, because if there was, it would have fallen apart. No one was ever kicked out. Everyone who joined was a keeper. Everyone continued to give everything they had.
My favorite chapter is probably everyone’s favorite chapter, which is the day the Crew was saved. That was my favorite thing to learn about, how all that went down and the party at Endeavor broke out and how everybody found out about it. How they sent that main tweet out about how we did it, we saved the Crew, and the eruption that followed.
And here’s a funny story. That day, that afternoon, I was in a meeting with Alex Fischer, Steve Lyons, and Irene Alvarez, who is the VP of Marketing at the Columbus Partnership. Steve Lyons was still with the Partnership at that time. We were reviewing the draft of what I had written about the Columbus Way and I had no idea this was going on. Alex was on his phone. It’s not uncommon when you’re in a meeting with Alex for him to send a text or check his email, but he was on his phone more than usual. Steve would leave the meeting and come back. Then Alex would leave and come back. And then they both left. So it was just me and Irene and she says, “I’m sorry, but there’s something going on.” I said, “Like what?” She said, “It’s with the Crew. I can’t really tell you about this.” This was like two in the afternoon on October 12. I didn’t know that the celebration tweet had already gone out. I learned about all that later. So I was like, “What about the Crew? Is it good news?” She said, “I mean, yeah, well probably, but it’s just a nightmare.” But again, I didn’t know about the tweet. It wasn’t until I got home and I turned on the news and they are broadcasting live from Endeavor and I was like, “ Oh my God!”
So it was kind of this serendipitous irony of me being a bystander while all of this was happening and now here I am having written the book. That day was so monumental and I’ve talked to everyone about that day and even Alex and Steve. And I had my own involvement in that day. That’s a fun thing for me to look back on. It’s like, “Holy shit, I was in a meeting with Alex when all this was happening!”
So how do you feel now that it’s done? It’s always a special moment when the box arrives and you open it up and you get to hold the book in your hand for the first time. So how are you feeling about it now?
I feel really good. You know from having written so many books that you’re so close to it that it’s hard to have perspective. There’s certainly an insecurity in all this work. More than ever in my life, I’ve put myself out there for people to critique my work or pass judgment. But I feel like I don’t know that there’s much I would have done differently. I’m happy with how it all came together. The story itself is such a good story. All I did was put my fingers to the keyboard and organize it. What I wanted to do was make it bigger than just the Crew. It’s certainly first and foremost about the Crew and the team being saved, but it’s also about a community and a grassroots movement, which can be so powerful when done right. These individuals did it.
When I was talking to Morgan earlier today, one of the things was about the process of working on this and what does this book mean to him. He was holding his new daughter, Nora, and he goes, “What it means to me is that someday she is going to read this and we resonated with the universe. And someday my grandkids will read this and know that Morgan was here.” If nothing else, if it sells nothing more than the copies I’ve given away, yet it’s done that for the people that were part of this movement, that there gives me satisfaction and the rest is just gravy.
I know you said you were more of a casual fan, but do you feel more connected to the Crew having worked on this project?
No question! When I was going through the process of writing, my wife and I went to a ton of games. Not every game, but many of them. And we’ve watched all the games this year. I have a whole new respect for soccer fans. They are different than any other fan. There is a sense of community that is unlike any other sport. I didn’t know about tifo or the Nordecke or any of these things. But when I talked to these people, and I’ll tell you four or five grown men cried while they were recounting how they processed the news that the Crew might leave. They had that emotion.
Like you, I’m a diehard Browns fan. I don’t remember that I shed any tears over the Browns leaving, but I’m not sure I ever thought there was anything I could do about it. You just resolve yourself to the fact that it’s our turn to have a team yanked out from under us. But this community did something about it. From the first rally, there was a movement that started. Has this really happened in sports history before? And so yeah, it brings me closer to the team. But I think more than that, it brings me closer to understanding and respecting the fans and their passion and what this team means to the community. I’m more vested now than I was before, and it’s going to remain that way.
Accidental Heroes is available at SaveTheCrewBook.com. Ten percent of the proceeds from direct purchases will be used to support the Community Assist program, which provides Crew tickets to underserved, refugee, and immigrant children of Columbus. The book is also available on Amazon.com.